By Gibbs Milliken
Hang out high, dry and comfortable.
Hammocks designed for camping are a great alternative to tents and sleeping on the ground. They are lightweight, easy to use and set up quickly without elaborate campsite preparation. When properly hung, a hammock keeps you out of reach from crawling, flying and biting creatures. Even in bad weather they can provide comfortable sleeping. A canopy can be attached either to shed rain or provide shade. In hot weather, hammocks are especially desirable because air circulates around the entire body. By adding an insulated pad and sleeping bag, some campers use hammocks for winter bivouacs.
The Clark Jungle Hammock features a cover that can be zipped closed over its mosquito netting like a tent. This covering is made of breathable, rip-stop nylon fabric that stores at the foot-end of the hammock until needed. Two small inside pockets and six larger compartments along the lower outside help keep gear off the ground. The deluxe model we tested is roomy, comfortable and strong enough to hold a load of 300 pounds. Opening either of the side closures allows the hammock to be used as a lounge chair. It is suspended with two strong polypropylene ropes with aluminum drip rings to divert rainwater. Despite its capacity, it weighs less than 4 pounds, including ropes and extra-large rain-fly. ($269, Deluxe Hammock, Clark Outdoor Products, (800) 468-4635, www.junglehammock.com)
Weighing a little less than 3 pounds, the Hennessy Explorer Deluxe Hammock offers zipperless entry through a bottom opening that closes tightly with Velcro strips when body weight is applied. Constructed of strong nylon fabric, it is fully reinforced at stress points, and structured for proper body curvature. Storage is limited to one interior mesh pocket; small clips on the overhead net rope hold light items. The rainfly comes in different sizes, and we recommend the largest to provide more shade and weather protection. The nylon ropes are secured to trees with wide webbing straps that prevent damage to the bark. ($169, Hennessy Hammock, (888) 539-2930, www.hennessyhammock.com)
Hand-woven cotton hammocks have been used for centuries in tropical realms. Family weavers in Latin America make the best ones. These hammocks come with strong multistrand nylon loop attachments at each end of the cool, open-weave cotton bed. For bug protection, these hammocks must be enclosed with a separate mosquito netting. Rain shields are often simple tarps of clear, heavy plastic or waterproof nylon sheeting. These basic multi-colored Mayan Hammocks are best purchased in the extra-large size of deluxe cotton for the greatest comfort. As with any woven material or bedding, care must be taken to protect this style of hammock from snags, tangles and prolonged exposure to the elements. ($119.95, XL Deluxe, Hammock Jungle, (877) 828-1217, www.hammockjungle.com)
Not all hammocks are suitable for camping. Tourist or yard hammocks made from uncomfortable, rough-woven sisal fiber, thin nylon strings or thick-corded rope with wooden spreader bars are intended only for a short nap in the shade. If you’re looking for a more comfortable sleep when camping, the best options — especially if the terrain is rough, wet and insects abound — is to purchase a hammock specifically designed for adventure travel and wilderness conditions.